Installing garden lighting

Outdoor lighting can transform a garden, creating spectacular features or illuminating steps and patios.

If you use low-voltage kits it is also easy to fit.


Up to 12 lights; the cable is simply pressed on to contact spikes at the base of each lamp.

Electricity can be dangerous so follow these rules: All lighting and electrical equipment must be specifically designed for outdoor use.

Use low-voltage (24V) lighting wherever possible.

Mains voltage (240V) is only really necessary for security or other powerful lighting. Improperly installed mains voltage can be lethal, so unless you’re very experienced, employ a qualified electrician.

All mains-voltage fittings must be fitted with a special safety cutoff apparatus called a circuit breaker or residual current device.

Make a record of where buried cables are located. Note: Regulations in Australia and New Zealand prohibit unli-censed people installing mains voltage electrical wiring and ac-cessories. Changes to electrical installations, including house wiring, can only be effected by an authorised licensed electrical contractor.

Mains or low voltage?

For really bright light, for security or safety reasons, mains electricity is necessary. For example, security lights fitted with passive infra-red (PIR) sensors that turn on automatically when anyone approaches require mains voltage.

However, mains voltage is costly and disruptive to install, especially in an established garden, since the cables must be buried a minimum of 45cm (1 Sin) deep in a protective plastic conduit and further protected with a covering of tiles. Plugs must be weatherproofed and fitted to a solid wall or stout stake. Mains-voltage lighting mounted on the wall of your house is an easier exercise.

Low-voltage lighting systems are cheaper, quicker, safer and easier to install but provide more modest light. A transformer, plugged into an indoor socket, provides 12 or 24 voltage.

Low-voltage kits

Low-voltage garden lights are available in kit form. DIY kits usually comprise two, four or six lights with spike fittings, a transformer (to reduce the voltage) and 15m (50ft) of low-voltage cable. Extra cable is available in 15m (50ft) and 7.5m (25ft) lengths.

Choose the position of the lights, then lay out the cable to run to each one in turn. Low-volt- age cable can be left lying on the surface of the soil, but the garden will look neater if it is buried in a shallow trench. It is important, however, to then protect it by putting tiles on top of it before back-filling, or running it through plastic conduit (piping) to protect it from accidental damage.

Connect the cable to each light in turn, following the manufacturer’s instructions, then take the cable back to the transformer, in the house, garden shed or garage anywhere convenient with an electrical supply.

If you need to take the cable into the house, drill a small hole in a door frame or window frame and seal it with non-setting mastic once the cable is in place.

When all the preparations are completed, check the connections and then plug in the transformer.

Festoon lighting

An ideal way of providing temporary lighting and a festive air for a summer evening party, or lighting up an outdoor Christmas tree, is to use a festoon lighting set. This consists of a length of tough flex fitted at intervals with special weatherproof lamp-holders, into which low-wattage (mains-voltage) light bulbs – clear or coloured – are inserted.

You can run the flex through trees, tying it to the branches, or along walls and fences, holding it in place with simple clips. Fix them as close as possible to each bulb, to reduce the risk of the wind smashing the bulb against the tree or wall.

When you are satisfied with the arrangement of the flex and the positions of the lights, run the flex to a socket outlet – this can be an exterior weatherproof socket if you have one, or a conveniently sited socket in the house, garage or shed.

For complete safety, especially if the festoon can be reached easily, use a plug-in residual current device (RCD) to protect the temporary circuit. This fits between the plug and the socket outlet.

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